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Reactivated BSN Program Gets High Marks From Members of Inaugural Graduating Class, as Second Class Prepares to Graduate


If you had told Joshua Light a few years ago that he would have a nursing degree and a good job at a Memphis hospital by the time he was 23, he probably would not have believed you.

Joshua Light photo cropped
2014 BSN graduate Joshua Light

The former sales associate from Bartlett was among the first graduates of the reactivated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Light graduated in December 2014, and now works on a medical/surgery/stroke/pulmonary floor at Methodist UT Hospital.

He said the accelerated, 17-month BSN program made him and his classmates attractive to employers and prepared him well for the demands of his new job

“UT is an excellent program, from the staff, to the campus, to all the different extracurricular activities that they do for the students and for the community,” he said. “Any of the staff there would do anything for you. They will help you with whatever you need.”

After the inaugural BSN class graduated, all 35 members passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) on the first attempt. State boards of nursing use the exam to certify that a candidate is prepared for entry-level nursing after completion of an accredited nursing degree. The 100 percent pass rate is quite an accomplishment. The average rate for Tennessee is 87 percent, and the national average is 81 percent. The 66 members of the second class for the reactivated BSN program will graduate in December.

The BSN program, established at UTHSC in 1950 with 26 students, has been inactive from time to time over the years. It was most recently revived in November 2012 in response to requests from UTHSC’s hospital practice partners.

“We are in great need of nurses at the bedside,” said Hallie Bensinger, DNP, APN, FNP-BC, assistant professor and director of the BSN/MSN programs at UTHSC. “We talk about a nursing shortage. We’ve been talking about it for a very long time, but it is becoming acute. And I know that the practice partners really want nurses at the bedside, and they were asking for us to bring back the BSN.”

According to the United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast, the shortage of registered nurses is expected to grow across the country through 2030, with the most intense shortages in the South and the West.

The Future of Nursing Report by the Institute of Medicine in 2010 advocated increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce to 80 percent and doubling the number of nurses with doctoral degrees. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 55 percent of registered nurses currently hold baccalaureate or graduate-level degrees.

Dr. Bensinger said the BSN program at UTHSC draws students from diverse walks of life. “We’ve had people from retail, banking, teachers,” she said. “A lot of them will tell me, ‘I always wanted to be a nurse, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. After I started doing the job I trained for, I realized nursing was what I really wanted to do.’ ”

The first professional degree in nursing, the BSN prepares students to continue their studies at the master’s and doctoral levels. That’s something Light hopes to do. “I’m going to pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice, and I want to specialize as a psychiatric nurse practitioner,” he said.

Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, ARNP-BC, dean of the College of Nursing, said most members of the inaugural BSN class plan to pursue higher-level degrees. “In our recent exit survey, more than 75 percent of our graduates indicated they intend to continue their education,” Likes said. “These numbers are quite impressive and speak to the quality of our students and the excellent modeling of our faculty.”

Kelsey Starnes is also a 2014 BSN graduate.

Kelsey Starnes, 23, a 2014 BSN graduate, said she also plans on pursuing more education. But for now, she’s content to get some “real world experience” under her belt in her new job at Methodist Hospital North. She works nights in the medical/surgical unit on the stroke floor.

Starnes credits her instructors at UTHSC with preparing her for the work. “They are very good at preparing you to be a fast, critical thinker, which is what you need in being a nurse,” she said. “That is one thing I was complimented on a lot. I flew through my orientation because of my critical thinking skills.”

While the program taught her how to work under pressure, Starnes said the caring faculty of the College of Nursing helped students cope with the stresses of the course load and the training.

“It’s fast-paced and it’s hard, but they were the nicest people, and that made it so much easier,” she said. “You can tell the professors really enjoy being nurses.”

UTHSC’s College of Nursing has more than 5,400 alumni, and has educated approximately 2,000 nurses practicing in Tennessee. It is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, an independent accrediting agency that ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate and residency programs in nursing.

Prospective students can apply to the BSN program with a bachelor’s degree or higher in any non-nursing field or with 60 college credits. Registered nurses with an associate degree or nursing diploma can apply to the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree Program that began in the fall of 2014.

The application deadline for entering the BSN program in the fall of 2016 is January 15, 2016. For more information, call (901) 448-6125 or visit https://www.uthsc.edu/nursing/academic-programs/BSN/.